Cars in books, April 1980

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There are one or two interesting references to cars in “and the next object . . .” by Norman Hackforth (Angus and Robertson, 1975) although this book will be of much greater appeal to those who enjoy Show-Biz reminiscences, and the title should not be taken too literally because, although Norman Hackworth became well-known as the “mystery voice” of the BBC’s famous “Twenty Questions” Programme, this is his entertaining story of his entire life in the entertainment business, much of the time with Noel Coward. On the motoring front he says he has always had some sort of a car in his life after first being able to afford one. That was in 1930. It was a Citroën Cloverleaf three-seater, which cost “the princely sum of £22. 10/-“. Hackworth recalls how a lot of his theatrical chums used to turn up then in “old bangers” which they boasted had cost them £10, or even a fiver, and that as everyone of the cast of Bitter Sweet seemed to have one, Charles II Street would be solid with this motley collection of vintage machinery. 

Later in the book there is a reminder that petrol was still very much rationed in 1948 and that Hackforth was still suffering flat batteries in his cars in 1949, as when his wife had to push their car away from the Caprice theatre after their wedding celebration. There is a reference to the Author’s boat Wanderlust, named after the first song of Norman’s that his wife ever heard on the air, a 26′ converted ship’s lifeboat, with a V8 Scripps petrol engine that made it “ludicrously overpowered”. Richard Dimbleby’s boat, the Dutch sailing-barge Vabel, formed a contrast in the craft of these two friends. The book also has a chapter entitled “and also in Rolls-Royces”, about how Richard Dimbleby having reached the stage in his career when his accountants had informed him that the purchase and running of a motor car could be set against his legitimate business and prestige expenses, was thinking of something to supplement his Land Rover. In this connection Dimbleby was offered a Bentley Continental for a few weeks’ trial, after he had been to the Motor Show and, after looking at a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud, thought its purchase might seem a bit ostentatious. There is a short description of a run from England to Lausanne in the Bentley for a TV show, on which Hackforth went as his passenger, with Dimbleby. On the way to Dover, halfway down the A20, they were alarmed by a constantly flashing green light on the dashboard. Pulling into a lay-by, “The Bentley Owner-Driver’s Handbook — Price Two Guineas” was consulted and it was then discovered that the light merely meant that only about four gallons of fuel remained in the Bentley’s petrol tank. . . . The 400 mile run from Dunkirk to Lausanne, 400 miles on a bleak winter day, took within comfortable time for dinner, in spite of a stop at Rheims for some champagne, and “on some of the long French straights the speedometer needle wavered effortlessly over the hundred mark”. In the end, however, Richard Dimbleby bought a Rolls-Royce, much as they both “adored that Bentley”. — W.B.